On the Trail of Dracula

"It's interesting though, that he actually didn't change the title of the book until the very last minute. The book, the working title of the book was 'The Undead,' " said Barsanti.

But Michael Barsanti and other scholars say the nickname "Dracula" was essentially all Stoker took from the accounts of Vlad the Impaler. There's little evidence Stoker knew much else about Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Dracula).

According to Barsanti, "The notes show that Stoker imagined … the vampire count, even before he learned about Dracula. … It's sort of an irony that prior to Stoker, Vlad Dracula was a prince of Wallachia. And ever since then, now everyone thinks he's a vampire," Barsanti said.

Vampire Movies and More

Seven decades after Stoker's character laid out basic rules for vampire stories -- garlic and crosses keep the creatures at bay and they can be killed only with a stake to their heart -- director Roman Polanski was spoofing them in the 1967 film "The Fearless Vampire Killers."

Dracula became trivialized by these cartoonish vampire characters in movies, comic books, even in the cereal character Count Chocula, Miller said.

Anne Rice's novel, "Interview With The Vampire," stripped the comic book quality from vampires.

"Just when you think that the vampire cannot come back from the grave one more time, someone comes along with a movie or a novel and reinvents the whole thing. … Her vampires are sensuous sexual renegades. They're brooding and introspective," Skal said.

It's not just the enticing idea of eternal life that gives vampires their enduring appeal, it's their seductive qualities, says professor and author Katherine Ramsland. "You could get a zombie to live forever but who wants to be a zombie? Nobody. Who wants to be Frankenstein's monster? Nobody. You want to be vampires because vampires get all the girls or all the guys," she said.

But Kostova's new book peels away the pop culture characterizations of vampires and Dracula and places the legend in a historical context.

"The vampire legend is part of an answer to the question what would happen to us if we were allowed to live forever? And the answer, the consensus seems to be that it wouldn't be very good for us, that somehow we would have to give up part of our humanity to do that, that we would become monsters," Kostova said.

"The word vampire itself seems to have cropped up in Slavic countries as a term for a blood sucking corpse. This whole idea of blood, the mystical, magical, almost religious symbolic power of blood I think is a very strong part of it," said Miller.

Vampire legend and the symbolic weight of blood run together through recorded history. In virtually all religions blood has some significance -- none more obvious than the symbolic drinking of blood at Christian communion, and its promise of a spiritual afterlife.

Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 movie brought the vampire legend full circle. Called "Bram Stoker's Dracula," the film united the themes of death, sex and blood.

And Kostova in her novel attempts to weave these threads together into a new 21st-century version of the legend. Scholars are at the center of her story, and that adds yet another big theme to the vampire legend -- the quest for knowledge.

In Kostova's book, Dracula has become a scholar -- leaving clues about his real identity in libraries -- tempting researchers to put it all together.

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